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Shougat Dasgupta
A Fan’s Notes

Suárez’s bite is less disgusting than the indignation it spawned

uis Suárez has no one but himself to blame. His World Cup is over. Surely, Uruguay's World Cup campaign is also ruined. Liverpool fans, justifiably, might wonder if their star player hasn't already put paid to what should have been a joyous season back at the top end of English and European football. If he stays at Anfield, he will be, once November rolls around and he can play again, the freak show in a travelling circus. As acts of self-sabotage go, Suárez's biting of Giorgio Chiellini was both spectacularly strange and spectacularly costly.

The Uruguayan FA and Suárez's lawyer, even the Uruguayan media, alleged a Photoshop conspiracy. Had Suárez been able to control himself, or even channel his aggression into something more acceptable like a knee to the spine, or a swinging elbow into Chiellini's nose, sending the blood spurting satisfyingly across the defender's face and onto his shirt, there would have been no need for such a weak defence of the indefensible.

"Everybody knows the British media have an issue with Suárez," Diego Lugano, a tough defender and Uruguay's captain, told English reporters. "It must sell newspapers in England. Otherwise you wouldn't be here. Yesterday Uruguay played against Italy, and Saturday it will play Colombia. I don't know what a British journalist is doing talking about Suárez. It must be popular with the British media. I don't see another explanation." Absurd. Paranoid. Or astute media criticism?

Among the more "disgusting" (a favourite word of Suárez's critics) aspects of the Suárez imbroglio has been the righteous posture adopted by FIFA and England's football journalists. Normally antagonistic, the two have found mutual cause in punishing Suárez to the fullest possible extent. FIFA's independent disciplinary committee, responsible for "sentencing" Suárez, issued a lofty admonishment: "Such behaviour cannot be tolerated on any football pitch, and in particular not at a FIFA World Cup when the eyes of millions of people are on the stars on the field." The august committee did not explain how it had made its acutely considered moral distinctions, how Suárez's bathetic "bite" was such an order of magnitude worse than Italy's Mauro Tassotti leaving Spain's Luis Enrique covered in blood with an off-the-ball elbow in the 1994 World Cup, for which the Italian received FIFA's hitherto longest ban of eight international games.

n that same World Cup, the US midfielder Tab Ramos was left with a fractured skull from a flying elbow. Even in this World Cup, elbows have either been ignored or punished with a three-match ban in the case of Cameroon's Alex Song. The only damage Suárez caused, in any of the three biting incidents for which he has become a hate figure in the English press, was to himself, to his own career. Something else is at work here, something, for all FIFA and English commentators' posturing, not entirely rational — Suárez is guilty of an elemental transgression.

Fred, the Brazilian forward, has expressed some sympathy for the length of Suárez's ban. Most fans are resorting either to predictable jokes on Twitter — Suárez as the shark in Jaws, Suárez as Hannibal Lecter — or, if in Brazil, to posing near a large Adidas poster of Suárez with his teeth bared. Even Chiellini posed for a picture with a maid at his hotel biting his shoulder. People are amused, disbelieving at the madness, the childishness of Suárez's bite, but only in England are columnists and commentators slavering, frothing at the mouth, fangs bared (ironically) in unrepressed rage.

Why do they care so much? It might require those columnists, and the pitchfork-wielding commenters on English newspaper websites to do some of what they urge Suárez to do (when they're not calling for him to be imprisoned or banned from football for life) — ask uncomfortable questions of themselves. Many English newspapers have made this a cultural issue, pouring scorn on Uruguayans for supporting Suárez, on the officials for their admittedly silly charges of conspiracy, on ordinary fans for showing up at the airport en masse to restate their love for their "disgraced" superstar. The Guardian even got a useful idiot from Montevideo to write an article about how Suárez plays football "the Uruguayan way" in which, apparently, "winning is all that counts." Those nasty, unscrupulous Uruguayans.

Every country self-mythologises. In England, they appear to view themselves as paragons of fair play; Wayne Rooney was at it again after England's early exit from the World Cup, suggesting the players were "too honest", without the necessary "nastiness" that separated winning World Cup sides from lovable losers like the English. Suárez offends the English by being in their eyes an unrepentant cheat, by being everything the English think they are not — duplicitous, sneaky, nasty. It goes without saying that English sportsmen have done the same and far worse than Suárez; biting and eye-gouging are fairly common offences in rugby, the sport of English gentlemen as opposed to proletarian football.

Óscar Tabárez is right when he describes the furore around Suárez, again mostly in England, as "cheap morality". For FIFA, the opportunity to grandstand about Suárez must come as welcome relief. It's him; it's him that brings football into disrepute, not us! For the English press, hypocrisy is its stock in trade. Suárez should be punished. What he did was stupid. But this unprecedented ban and the viciousness of the English press coverage is more troubling than anything Suárez did. The Uruguayan antihero is not the only one left with a sour taste in his mouth.

 
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